Although the California League is a hitters' league, it is expected that the Ports' pitching staff will lead the team in 2008. Stockton will have arguably the most talented group of arms in the league at the start of the season.
|Cahill had an 0.74 ERA in August last season. b>|
Two of the top pitchers on the 2007 Kane County Cougars' staff will also be in the Stockton rotation this year: Trevor Cahill and Henry Rodriguez. Cahill, the A's top pick in 2006, went 11-4 with a 2.73 ERA in 105.1 innings for Kane County in 2007. He struck-out 117 batters. Rodriguez, who is the only member of the Ports' who is on the A's 40-man roster, posted a 3.07 ERA for Kane County last season. He struck-out 106 in 99.2 innings. Rodriguez and De Los Santos will light-up the radar gun in Stockton this season. Both right-handers regularly throw in the high-90s and Rodriguez has been clocked as high as 100 MPH.
Mexican League acquisition Arnold Leon also figures to see a lot of time in the Stockton rotation. The right-hander was picked up by Oakland after posting a 1.94 ERA during the Mexican Summer League last season and pitching well in the Mexican Winter League. Leon throws in the low-90s with a nice assortment of secondary pitches.
Jared Lansford, Jason Fernandez, Graham Godfrey and James Heuser may have to begin the season in the Ports' bullpen, but all four figure to start for Stockton at some point during the year. Lansford was the Ports' Opening Night starter last season. However, he injured his lat muscle during that start and missed the rest of the season. The A's 2005 second round pick was healthy at the end of the year and competing in the Hawaiian Winter Baseball league. He has been 100 percent all spring. Godfrey was acquired as part of the Marco Scutaro trade with Toronto. The right-hander made 21 starts for the Blue Jays' Low-A team in 2007, posting a 3.98 ERA in 110.2 innings.
Fernandez began the 2007 season in the Kane County bullpen, but he finished the year as one of the Cougars' best starters. The right-hander had a 2.77 ERA and he held opposing batters to a .209 average in 110.2 innings last season. Heuser threw a team-high 155 innings for Kane County in 2007 and posted a 4.12 ERA. The left-hander was second among A's minor leaguers with 147 strike-outs last year.
The Ports' staff also features four talented arms that have made their careers exclusively in relief: Sam Demel, Andrew Carignan, Patrick Currin and Derrick Gordon. Demel was the A's third round pick in 2007. He began his pro career with Stockton, but was sent to Kane County after early struggles with the Ports. Demel had a 4.63 ERA, 23 strike-outs and four saves in 23.1 professional innings last season. He was one of the NCAA's top closers while with TCU. Carignan, the A's fifth round pick last season, was another top collegiate closer before being drafted. He spent his pro debut season with Kane County, posting a 2.03 ERA and saving four games in 13.1 innings. Demel throws in the 93-96 MPH range with a good change-up and slider, while Carignan can touch 97 MPH with his heater and he has a slurvy slider.
Currin, who served as the Ports' closer for much of last season, returns to the Stockton bullpen. The right-hander was a California League All-Star last year and he had 13 saves and 90 strike-outs in 80 innings between Stockton and Kane County. The lefty Gordon was one of the Cougars' best relievers in 2007. He posted a 2.10 ERA and saved seven games for Kane County while striking out 52 in 51.1 innings.
At times last season, the Stockton Ports struggled to put together any kind of consistent offensive production. That shouldn't be the case in 2008. The Ports' offense is led by a number of the A's top position prospects.
|Horton is good with the bat and glove. b>|
Joining Doolittle in the infield is fellow 2007 high draft pick Josh Horton, who should see the majority of time at shortstop for the Ports. The former UNC star hit .276 in 52 games between Vancouver and Kane County last season. He will be joined up the middle by Mike Affronti, who hit .321 in 26 late-season games with the Ports after spending most of the 2007 season with Kane County, and Larry Cobb, who hit .211 for Kane County last year. Frank Martinez returns at third base for Stockton after batting .267 with 12 homers for the Ports in 2007. Minor league free agent signing Darryl Lawhorn will serve as a utilityman for Stockton, as he did at the end of last season, when he hit .185 with five homers in 119 at-bats.
The Stockton outfield will have a lot of speed. Jermaine Mitchell headlines the group. He hit .288 with a .390 OBP and 24 stolen bases in 122 games for Low-A Kane County in 2007. Mitchell will be joined by 2006 third-round pick Matt Sulentic, who struggled badly with Kane County at the start of last season, but finished the year on an up-note with Vancouver when he hit .261 with four homers and 40 RBI in 71 games. Archie Gilbert, a minor league free agent signing by Oakland, will join Mitchell and Sulentic. Gilbert, a Hayward native, hit .289 with nine homers and 35 stolen bases for Kannapolis in 2007.
The Ports will welcome back Jed Morris behind the plate. The former Nebraska star last played for Stockton in 2005, when he became well-known for being one of three players to produce the movie "Dream Revolver," which was about a minor league ballplayer rediscovering his love for the game. Morris missed nearly all of the 2007 season after undergoing treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia, which he was diagnosed with in August of 2006.
Morris will be joined behind the plate by 2007 draft pick Matt Smith. Smith was one of the first of the A's 2007 picks to play for a full-season affiliate last year. He hit .205 in 38 games for Kane County in 2007.